Russian Invasion: We Should Condemn Eastern European Racism and the War in Ukraine

It’s seven days of war in Ukraine, and am heart-broken and praying for Ukraine. How one country can invade another with missiles and armies in our digital planet still surprises me. However, I have tried to let go of the temptation to comment about racism prevalent in Eastern Europe but can’t keep still. It’s not just in Ukraine during the train evacuation.

This is not a zero sum game, you can applaud Ukrainians heroism and still criticise the way they have treated black people. I believe the few racists do not represent the whole country, but its a stain that has been exposed.

Racism in America has been villlified in the US and around the world to the extent that it is common place for Americans to call out racism and have racists named and shamed. Its not always the case in other places in the world where black people have to tread carefully for fear of being noticed and discriminated.

At the beginning of Covid, Americans and sadly, sometimes African Americans were hating on Asian Americans for the Covid situation, and still rallying the world towards racial justice for blacks. On the other hand, Africans living in China were being thrown out of houses and blamed for bringing Covid to China, nutty as it sounds. Racism as a malignant social ill tends to own even those who have faced similar prejudice.

However, its important to underscore the reality about color privileges, black people are the least privileged people in the world. There are black billionaires and elites, but when the world judges us by our skin, not by the content of our character or brain, black people tend to be the most humiliated and ostracised. This Ukraine situation should answer those who deny white privilege.
I felt for a moment that black people wanted to draw attention to us when the focus was on Ukraine. Like let’s for a moment forget about racism, and think about the sufferings of blue-eyed, blonde-haired peoples of the Earth. But again, there will never be a moment like this where nations like Poland, Hungary and Ukraine (am still shocked it happened at a time of war) are exposed for mistreating the few black people in their midst. In an attempt to flee the country, Africans living in Ukraine were asked to go at the back of the queue, or denied entry into trains. Talk of the survival for the fittest, sorry, whitest. How many times have we asked black people to ‘suck it up’ while accommodating whites in distress. What’s our standard of what’s acceptable and what’s not. What happens to black international journalists, those from CNN. Would they be comfortable reporting in Ukraine or about their own encounter with racism in Ukraine or Poland. Should they be silent not to draw attention to themselves, and just report the story. Would there be a white journalist willing to report on how a black colleague was treated. These are just hypotheticals but more likely to happen in such an environment where Eastern European racist underbelly was exposed.

I saw comments with some black people taking Putin’s side because of the racist behaviour in Ukraine. The truth is that Mr. Putin view of Africa is a deeply racist ideologically judging from past comments. He could care less what happens to African Americans under Trump. He still does business African countries, economic and mercenary, but he sees the continent as one to be exploited just like those who came before him.

If you are constantly racially profiled as a group because there is no way to hide your skin color, you are wary of crisis situations because it will happen again. It’s disgusting that those who enjoy white privilege in a whole spectrum of shades pretend they didn’t see this happen because they cared about the heinous killings by Putin but not the immorality of racism. Granted that most Eastern European nations don’t have many black people because they don’t allow them into the country even as refugees. It’s possible that there’s little government effort to challenge racism in those countries unlike America. Black people have had to tolerate racism because it comes with the territory.

For example, I listened to an interview where an 18 year old African woman won a scholarship to Bucharest, Romania. She was called names and succeeded as a doctor. To which her professor in the end challenged her European classmates reminding them that she had to first learn the language before she even understood what her course entailed. This praise came after eleven years of encountering racism at stations where trains didn’t stop to pick up black students. Walking into Bucharest public squares and being called ugly and monkey. And the all universally racist line 'Go back to wherever you came from' that even racist Americans use. In the end, her professor wasn’t shocked that she emerged top of her class because she had put in the work. He might have been shocked how much they all had underestimated her. Notably, some of the students facing racial discrimination are studying to be doctors, and engineers since they are in Ukraine on well deserved scholarships.

Poland is now being praised as a safe haven for Ukrainians, but has a disturbing history of mistreating Middle Eastern and African refugees. To each their own, I guess. Which makes many ask why Middle Eastern and African countries cannot take in more refugees to stop them from being humiliated in Europe. This region is very unstable with years of war and poverty, and sometimes safety and prosperity means travelling very far into Europe. Its also for the reason that many have come to grapple with- the world is now a global village. Racists see globalisation as evil not interdependence. Each time I use my hand sanitizer or lotion from Poland, I know because of my skin color Polish people wouldn’t accept me yet we do business.

While I support global efforts against Russian Invasion of Ukraine, there is a probability that I will stand at the back of the queue in a train station in Ukraine, not because I got there late, but I will not be accepted honorably as a visitor. Rather, I will be viewed as a problematic person undeserving of equal treatment. It explains racism in America and anywhere in the planet where black people have lived side by side with white people but are never given the respect, humanity and dignity they deserve and must fight for it. That’s why am okay with racism in Ukraine being exposed, even in this time of need, because just like any other form of hate, it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere in the world. I know I was paid half of regular pay by my Indian boss in my country yet he was a foreigner. I know he like Eastern Europeans have be discriminated against by Anglo-Saxoners. When will karma come around for black people to see all our tormentors on the receiving end of racism? Shaming them seems like all we’ve got for this uncivilised behaviour.

I pray that Ukrainians will overcome this Russian Invasion, and the racism that has invaded their conscience. Putin doesn’t deserve Ukraine, and black people deserve better.

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Annette Gitahi

Annette Gitahi

World Peace. A humane world with dignity and respect for all

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